Cauliflowers, and Romanescos in particular, are in fact buds that are designed to become flowers but which never reach their goal.
We are all very familiar with the cauliflower. A Romanesco has a firmer texture than the cauliflower and a slightly nutty flavour.
By combining mathematical modelling and plant biology a team of scientists from the CNRS1 and Inria have worked out how the cauliflower and the Romanesco plants form the edible florets that are used in cooking.
The buds develop into stems, which in turn continue trying to produce flowers. The cauliflower is born from this chain reaction, resulting in a succession of stems upon stems.
The study showed that the brief incursion of buds into a flowering state profoundly affects their functioning and allows them, unlike normal stems, to grow without leaves and to multiply almost infinitely.
The atypical shape of the Romanesco is explained by the fact that its stems produce buds more and more rapidly (whereas the production rate is constant in other cauliflowers). This acceleration gives each floret a pyramidal appearance, making the fractal aspect of the structure clear.
“Cauliflower fractal forms arise from perturbations of floral gene networks” highlights how the selection of mutations in plants during the process of domestication has changed their shape, sometimes drastically, into the fruits and vegetables on our shelves.